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Multi-channel Location Recording

The Multi-channel Location Recording session at Surround 2002 provided an overview of the techniques used by three practitioners in this field. The presenters were Guy Charbonneau of Le Mobil, Bill MCQuay of National Public Radio (NPR) and David Hewitt of Location Recording.

Le Mobil is a company that provides the services of a mobile recording studio contained in a large semi truck. It is staffed by Guy Charbonneau and five crewmembers, they drive to assignments, put up the microphones, speakers and recording gear and then use the inside of the semi as their control room.

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Charbonneau noted that the job of the mobile recording truck has changed over the years. Originally, two microphones were used, the live recording was made and then the tape was sent off to be mixed and finished elsewhere. These days, multiple mics are used to capture audience sounds and ambience and the resulting product may be destined for a 5.1 release rather than stereo.

An example of this change was Le Mobil’s recent job capturing the sound for an upcoming DVD-Video release by singer Clint Holmes. Since Holmes performs two shows a day called ‘Takin’ It Uptown’ in the main showroom at Harrah’s Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, he has no time to visit a studio, so Le Mobil recorded his show live at Harrah’s, did the 5.1 mix in the mobile truck and then had Holmes listen to the playback and approve the final tweaks before the finished mix was sent to the company that will issue the DVD-Video disc.

Next up was Bill McQuay, Technical Director of National Public Radio. McQuay is responsible for the audio on the NPR radio series ‘Radio Expeditions’ which is sponsored by National Geographic Magazine.

Recently McQuay travelled to the Central African Republic to record the sounds of the rainforest. Rather than just record this material in stereo,, McQuay decided to make maximum use of the trip and record the sounds of the trip in 5.1 audio for potential use in a future DVD-Video release from NPR and National Geographic.

For this assignment, McQuay did some research and found a paper published in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, which described a four microphone surround technique which he used on this assignment. It involved using four Mk 25 omni microphones along with two Sony D8 Digital Recorders that were syncronized for recording the soundfield. To arrive at a 5.1 final product, McQuay placed the narration in the center speaker and took some of the low frequency information of the recording using a low pass filter and added it to the subwoofer .1 channel. To protect the microphone array from the bugs in the rainforest, McQuay had to cover them in netting. He then constructed a bamboo enclosure that acted as a jungle “control room”.

The audience at Surround 2002 was then treated to three of McQuay’s rainforest “soundscapes” as part of the session. Each provided vivid sounds of the rainforest that included thunder, birds, elephants and crickets. According to McQuay, there was no editing or mixing involved - according to him “…you’re hearing it as it occurred”. It was a very impressive demonstration, which earned him some well-deserved applause from the engineers at the session.

Last up on the panel was David Hewitt of Location Recording in Lahaska, Pennsylvania. Like Le Mobil, Hewitt’s firm specializes in location recording with a remote truck. Hewitt discussed his firm’s work on the Concert for New York album and DVD-Video. The entire project was “thrown together at the last minute” with donated time by the artists and engineers. There was very little time for rehearsal so the event proved quite a challenge. It was recorded with two ambient microphones for the audience, an Schoeps omnidirectional microphone for the hall, a Shure 58 for vocals, a 750’ run of microphone cord to the remote truck that led to a Neve VR console where all of the mixing was done live. Hewitt played two songs from the concert and said that given all of the challenges of the event, it turned out OK.

Hewitt also discussed recording the score for the recent movie ‘K-19’, a drama starring Harrison Ford. He quipped that “…many of you may have missed this movie, since it sank at the box office faster than the sub in the movie.” For this remote recording assignment, Location Recording was called upon to record the one hundred piece Kiroff Orchestra at Constitution Hall. The recording of the movie’s score was done live in the hall with no audience. The resulting tracks were later mixed at the movie sound studio for use in the movie. It was an unusual approach to a movie score recording but Hewitt cited it as yet another innovative assignment that remote recording firms are being called upon to do these days.

The panel members then took a few questions from the audience and left them with more remote location recording tips and tricks. From this session, it was clear that the challenges of this type of work are more extensive than they have been in the past. Even so, some very impressive surround recording work is being done in this manner today. []

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Show report last updated: 2nd February 2003.


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